You sold out, not Mandela!
July 18, 2012 § 29 Comments
Originally appeared on my news24.com column on 2012-01-13 08:00
People like to say that Nelson Mandela is a sell-out. That he sold black people down the river. That he lived a cushy life in prison. That he turned soft in prison and decided to sell out. That he alone is to blame for the fact that black people are still talking about economic freedom today.
Saying that he sold out demonstrates a lot of people’s ignorance when it comes to the history of the ANC and the negotiation process. By claiming that he “sold out”, this crowd indirectly suggests that there was no ANC without him; that Mandela, in a miracle to rival the virgin birth, singlehandedly negotiated a free and democratic South Africa by himself. According to this heretical thinking, in the beginning was Mandela and the ANC. Through him all things were negotiated; without him, nothing that was negotiated was negotiated. These haters of Nelson Mandela do not realise that they have turned the man from a him into a Him. God. He is no God. As he said on the day of his release, “I am your servant, I am not your messiah and I am not your saviour.”
Often, those who want to raise him to the level of deity always praise him alone as though there were no other people involved in the peaceful transition. Even Mandela himself has said: “I must not be isolated from the collective who are responsible for the success.”
What about those who blame Mandela for the negotiations? Perhaps a history lesson is in order. Thabo Mbeki led the negotiations for the ANC and his deputy was Jacob Zuma. According to Mark Gevisser’s biography, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, in the first week of August 1991, while Nelson Mandela was in Cuba, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma were in Cambridge, Cyril Ramaphosa convened the ANC’s National Working Committee (NWC) while the trio were out of the country. In that meeting, Zuma was replaced as head of ANC intelligence by Terror Lekota, “and Mbeki had been replaced as head of negotiations, by Ramaphosa himself”.
Mandela was livid upon hearing that Ramaphosa had Zuma and Mbeki replaced whilst the three of them were outside the country. Joe Slovo had lobbied hard to have Mbeki replaced by Ramaphosa as head of the negotiations team because he believed that “he was going to sell us out”.
If people want to blame someone then, they should blame Joe Slovo’s pick, Ramaphosa. But that would be just as outlandish and insanely ridiculous as blaming Mandela for the lack of economic freedom. How can we start blaming one man? No one worked in isolation. All decisions were made by the ANC’s executive. Only lazy thinking people will blame any single individual for the way things turned out. Blame the ruling party if you want to blame someone – but they had very limited choices.
“When you negotiate, you must be prepared to compromise.” Nelson Mandela.
There are some who say that he was a creation of the ANC. It is true that he was. The prisoners in Robben Island decided that he would be the one to represent their plight. In a PBS interview, Walter Sisulu said that Mandela was the best man to handle the situation.
Sisulu spoke about how the prison warders made the prisoners run when they were working at the quarry. According to Sisulu, one day, Mandela made a decision; it meant a great deal to all the prisoners when he suggested to them that they move slower than they ever had. That changed the situation because the warders didn’t know what to do. All of a sudden, the warders could no longer give them orders; they had to negotiate with them to get things done. That was the moment all the prisoners recognised his leadership.
It was for this reason that the ANC in exile decided to make him the face of the struggle against oppression. On the “creation of the Mandela myth”, Joe Matthews said: “I was one of those who worked out the policy.”
The people who knew him, like Oliver Tambo, held him in high esteem. Adelaide Tambo, Oliver’s wife, spoke about how her husband spoke about Mandela, “When Chief Luthuli was still president of the ANC, Nelson had made a speech – that speech sometimes appears on television…. And Oliver said to me, ‘This is the president of South Africa.’”
If people like Walter Sisulu, who knew Mdiba better than any of us ever will, can speak so glowingly about him, who are we to say some of the things we say about him? If Oliver Tambo, the most revered man in the ANC, could point to Nelson Mandela while Chief Albert Luthuli was still president of the ANC, and call him the president of South Africa who are we to say some of the things we say about him? On Christmas day in exile, Oliver Tambo would leave an empty chair at the head of the table. He would say that chair was for the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and the other prisoners on Robben Island.
If we want to talk about selling out, then we should be honest. The only people who have sold out is us. The bravest thing we do is open our mouths and blame them while we enjoy the freedom they fought for. They played their part; now fix what you’re complaining about.
They have set a task for us. It is to make things increasingly perfect. As Mandela put it, “Freedom can never be taken for granted. Each generation must safeguard it and extend it. Your parents and elders sacrificed much so that you should have freedom without suffering what they did. Use this precious right to ensure that the darkness of the past never returns.”